The weird thing is that, when I got my first glimpse of him last week, I thought that he was a very badly deteriorated 50, so thorough has my education in the destructive effects of the demon drink been, but when he started talking about going to school without shoes during the great depression, I realised that this wasn't the case. Mr Torrens is in fact a fantastically well preserved eightysomething. Now I understand why they call it "pickled".
After my two weeks on hand with the Nurofen, popping out for mixers and telling people he's in a meeting, he has come to rely on me with childlike enthusiasm. Calls me "dear girl", buys me chocolates, that sort of thing. And the news that I have been booked for only two weeks and that Mary, his regular secretary ("Who? Nevererdovva. Oh, yes...") is coming back from her hols fills him with bleary nostalgia. "Carnaveyer going without a thank-you, girlie," he says, though I assure him that I've been paid. "Tell you what, I'll buy yer dinner on yer last night."
Which I why I find myself on a Friday night in "M'club", one of those wood-walled Mayfair rooms that has served brisket to old codgers since the 19th century, with bread rolls, while Mr Torrens dribbles vegetable soup down his chin and smears his wine glass. "C'mon, girlie, drink up," he says. "We're going to have a fine night," and starts to tell me about his time building oil fields in Iran. "Fine women," he says, "Fine women. Jewellery from head to foot. There used to be a club - now what was it called? Oh, yes - and we'd go there, have a gin or two - ha-ha-ha-harrr - (he wipes his chin) and dance the night away..."
His shank of lamb with baby onions arrives, and my grilled Dover sole, and a bottle of red is put on the table.
Mr Torrens fills my glass, fills his own, laughs again, takes a slurp and glazes over. I suddenly realise that, of course, far from having a harder head than me, the constant levels of alcohol in his system mean that it takes only a couple of glasses to tip him over. He falls silent, gazing fishily over my shoulder. I'm mortified amidst the polite murmur around us. I offer the pommes dauphinoise. "Arr, yes," he says, "good old spuds." Gazes on.
I scrape at my fish, which is actually rather good, and the waiter tops up my glass. A thread of drool forms at the corner of Mr Torrens's mouth; he chews absently, and his upper plate seems unwilling to stick to his gums. Every now and then a word slips out: "rrr-jollygood"; "rrr-carrots"; "rrr-fuzzywuzzies". I have a fixed grin on my face and a powerful desire for oblivion.
The waiter clears our plates and I decline pudding, coffee and stickies. It turns out that all that has to be done about the bill is for Mr Torrens to scrawl on a piece of paper for later, and somehow we end up at the front door. He drapes his arm over my shoulder, pinches my ear. "Yarragoodgirl", he growls.
The cab driver takes one look and refuses to take him alone. "Sorry, love", he says. "I don't think I'll get him out at the other end." I get in. "Mr Torrens?" I say, "Where do you live?" "Wha?" he says. "rrr-goodgirl. Home." I'm not going to get an address out of him.
Eventually, I do the only thing I can, and ask the driver to take us back to the office. With his arm still draped over my shoulder, I haul him upstairs, unlock the front door with the key in his breast pocket and lead him into his office. Lie him down as gently as I can on the floor behind his desk, tuck him up under a fire blanket and, flushed with guilt, head for the hills.Reuse content